Thursday, March 26, 2009

A real skeptic

The only climate warming skeptic - he's far too open minded to be called a 'denier' - I have any use for at all is Freeman Dyson.

Dyson seems to see the world as an interdisciplinary set of problems out there for him to evaluate. Climate change is the big scientific issue of our time, so naturally he finds it irresistible. But to Dyson this is really only one more charged conundrum attracting his interest just as nuclear weapons and rural poverty have. That is to say, he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.
Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus. The Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg admires Dyson’s physics — he says he thinks the Nobel committee fleeced him by not awarding his work on quantum electrodynamics with the prize — but Weinberg parts ways with his sensibility: “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”
Dyson has a little of the reflexive scorn of the self made genius for those with official Doctorates that Edison had but with a little less of the resentful spleen of Edison.

I disagree with his conclusions but I appreciate how he came to them. It would be nice if he was right, but the rational approach is a variation of Pascal's wager: If there's a chance that the overwhelming consensus that we're heading for environmental devastation is right then the potential consequences of not acting overwhelm any potential costs of trying to stop it.

2 comments:

Mark Francis said...

Dyson's opposition is old news.

This is not an area of his expertise.

Cliff said...

Of course a central tenant of Dyson's praxis is a jaundiced view of the very concept of 'expertise'. He's done amazing theoretical work in maths, biology and engineering without credentials in any of them. He did genius level work in physics without a Phd with people like Oppenheimer sniffing at his lack of 'expertise'...until they saw his work and changed their tune.

I repeat, I think he's wrong here, I think the potential ramifications of climate change don't allow for the relaxed attitude he proposes.

But ignoring his views because of a lack of official credentials denoting 'expertise' is a mistake others have made about him in the past.

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